Synaesthesia Ho!
February 29, 2008 5:45 AM   Subscribe

The MeeK FM Typographic Synthesizer(tube.)
posted by geos (17 comments total)
Douglas Hofstadter and Donald Knuth would probably love this thing.

The inclusion of sound is a little odd. Synaesthesia indeed, presumably on the part of the creator.
posted by DU at 5:59 AM on February 29, 2008


Is it capable of importing typefaces, or does it just have a bunch of presets? And then, when you're done editing, can you export what you've done? (In other words: Is this useful?)
posted by Sys Rq at 6:35 AM on February 29, 2008

So each letter conforms to a particular sound, and you can modulate that sound/letter and have the modulations played back?

How is this any different than any other synthesizer? I thought winamp was doing this sort of thing with visualization-type plugins back in the late 90s.

Also, that was some of the most annoyingly high-pitched squeekiness I've ever heard in my life. Thought the cat was gonna explode.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:40 AM on February 29, 2008

Sys Rq - I agree - I could see this as being kind of cool/useful if you could export a page of text and then somehow import it into the software and have it played back to you. Print out a sheet of wacky type-faced text and pass it out... have a song sort of encoded in the page itself.

This would elevate it to the level of sheet music.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:42 AM on February 29, 2008

This would elevate it to the level of sheet music.


Odd little machine, this. I kinda like the idea of this visual interface, though. Still, I don't see why it needs to be letters, exactly. Seems like the ability to construct any shapes (and especially longer ones, resulting in longer loops) would be better.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:49 AM on February 29, 2008

It looks horrible. It looks like the vectors that make up the letters are being used either as ASDR envelopes, or to modulate the sound source in some other way. As a gimmick, I'm sure it serves its purpose. As a viable synth, it looks awful. There's not enough control, because you're constrained by the basic shapes of the alphabet, which may or may not sound any good. If the examples shown in the clip are typical, it sounds awful.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:01 AM on February 29, 2008

Balrog: I was thinking "useful" in terms of typography. As a synth, it'd be pretty worthless, except maybe for step-sequencing, and even then, you'd be better off with, you know, a step sequencer. I can't even begin to understand why anyone would want font editing capabilities in a musical instrument.

(That the first point made in the video is "ooh walnut, ooh aluminum, ooh knobs and buttons" betrays a somewhat backward emphasis on form vs. function.)
posted by Sys Rq at 8:23 AM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm always disappointed by this kind of thing. I'll give the guy full marks for a beautifully-crafted piece of hardware, and for spending the time and energy working out a concept in exhaustive detail, but it's the sound. There's just nothing there, nothing that you couldn't do with a stack of LFOs in a Nord Modular patch, and nothing to connect to the visual conceit beyond "well, it's letters making sounds."

With things out there like the Lemur and Live and the Nord Modular and Reaktor and so on, why are we just stuck in the same place, turning the same old knobs, over and over? There so much effort to come up with some new and avant garde means of control, but rarely any real development, follow-through, or earnest attempts at finding new forms of virtuosity over the fleeting thrill of high concept. Maybe this is just a step for the typographic synth, but for now, it just seems sadly familiar, alas.
posted by sonascope at 8:39 AM on February 29, 2008

Where I'd like to see this go is creating some sort of more advanced (read as less electronic sounding) speech-to-text and back again software. Think about how you could actually get nuance, inflection and emotion out of a passage you see on a website as your computer reproduces how the data SOUNDS. Basically what I'm getting at is 30 seconds of "text" takes up less data space than 30 seconds of "speech". Assuming you could encode it that way. Am I barking up the wrong tree?
posted by Sam.Burdick at 8:57 AM on February 29, 2008

Yeah, I was thinking, "what's the point?" As music, it sounds horrible. If it was to portray synaethesia, it didn't translate to me. If it was to somehow, say, take the Gettysburg Address, and turn it into an Aphex Twin (or name your own favorite electronic wankery here) song, then it coulda been much cooler. Still, I like the ideas behind it, but not the execution.
posted by not_on_display at 9:09 AM on February 29, 2008

Sys Rq he says that the font is an imported line drawing from illustrator, and that it can be saved, so it does look like it's minimally "useful."

Which brings me to my second thought: this thing is art, why is everyone complaining that it's useless?
posted by Richard Daly at 9:25 AM on February 29, 2008

And those of you who don't like the sound of the P at 4:46 just won't be going to heaven. I'm sorry.
posted by Richard Daly at 9:29 AM on February 29, 2008

This is terrible on the typographic front too. It's just a way to make typefaces uglier--it doesn't work either as a way of algorithmically making interesting typefaces or an an experiment. It's just, let's find some visual knobs and twiddle them, but they're not the knobs that are relevant to type either visually or gesturally. For some more interesting experiments, look here or here or here or here (in lieu of here).
posted by rodii at 9:35 AM on February 29, 2008

^this thing is art, why is everyone complaining that it's useless?
Ahhh, well, umm, it's ugly, then?

The ideas behind it have manifested themselves as successful art before (and I'm too lazy to scour for references, but I'm sure someone could yell some out for me--Laurioe Anderson with that tape-head-bow thingie?). I'm saying, as art, it stroked me the wrong way; and the tool itself struck me as quite useful if applied toward other things, art or real-life-applications--but not this.
posted by not_on_display at 9:38 AM on February 29, 2008

rodii, You're right that most of the knobs aren't hooked to the traditional typographic variables (weight not withstanding), but those knobs can obviously be used to influence rhythm, and the entire project emphasizes flow in a way that's different from most typography.

My suspicion is that the work is being judged as, "That's not very good typography," or, "that's not a very good audio synth," when it's only taking those two disciplines as a starting point.

Taken as typography alone, I'll definitely concede that there's some silly stuff going on there that isn't of much value. Stretching the letter-forms made me cringe - but that may be a response that's been educated into me more than a natural reaction.

A lot of these responses remind me of the reaction of the modernists to grunge typography in the 90s, and that may be why this is being criticized so heavily: it's algorithmic grunge in a field where it's only deliberate, painterly, conceptual grunge was ever respected, and even that seems to have gone to the wayside.

Likewise, taken as just an audio synthesizer work, it seems pretty shallow to me, and I don't know much of anything about audio synthesis. The sounds remind me of synthetic noises from video games and music from the late 80s.

And the more I think about it, I was probably to hasty to say it's art instead of a tool. It's obviously (to me) useful for something, even if that something hasn't been demonstrated with it yet. I should probably have seen it as both.

I just can't help but feel that it's interdisciplinary between a couple of the most tightly defined fields of art I can think of, and sets itself against the perfect storm of snark and art-snobbery.
posted by Richard Daly at 10:29 AM on February 29, 2008

Or it could be just an interesting idea that's poorly executed. I hear what you're saying, but, I mean, consider the possibility that some of the criticisms are valid.

I loved grunge, but this fails (as "generative typefounding") in one of the ways that grunge failed, I think--it focuses on the strokes rather than the voids between the strokes, and the... parts rather than the gestalt. If I were to redo this project (and it's a cool project) I'd start there.
posted by rodii at 10:57 AM on February 29, 2008

I mean, consider the possibility that some of the criticisms are valid.

Yeah, I probably came off too strongly in an attempt to puncture the "blech" consensus.
I respect the attempt more than I admire the results. I'm interested to see version 2, especially if the inventor can get some collaborators.

I still like that P, though.
posted by Richard Daly at 11:28 AM on February 29, 2008

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